Polar bears have taken the lives of two Kivalliq residents, strike fear into campers and berry pickers and the predators are breaking into cabins and community freezers, according to to Cathy Towtongie, MLA for Rankin Inlet North-Chesterfield Inlet.

MLA Cathy Towtongie says polar bears are killing people, breaking into cabins and community freezers and causing campers and berry pickers to be fearful.
Photo courtesy of the Government of Nunavut.

“A lot of hunters have come to me (and said) that they will kill without a quota. They will just kill. It has happened in Arviat, and I was informed in Naujaat some hunters have killed, left the meat, and just took the skin,” Towtongie said in the legislative assembly on Wednesday. “A hunter came up to me (and said), ‘We don’t have to inform the wildlife officers.’ There’s almost a feeling of civil disobedience with the individuals who have approached me.”

Towtongie said she grew up when there were no polar bear quotas.

“When the Inuit are saying there are too many polar bears and the scientists are saying we’re running out of polar bears, what is the actual position of the Department of Environment on this matter?” she asked.

Environment Minister Jeannie Ehaloak said her department is also concerned about polar bear attacks and the powerful animals coming too close to hunters and residents on the land. However, it’s the Nunavut Wildlife Management Board that makes recommendations on setting hunting quotas, Ehaloak noted, adding that public hearings will be held in Iqaluit in the near future.

Towtongie said previous studies of Baffin Bay and Kane Basin polar bears indicated “healthy and productive” populations and she expressed confidence that Western Hudson Bay numbers are also robust.

“As an ordinary Inuk, not as an MLA, I’m confused. Where does the Nunavut Wildlife Management Board get their information to recommend to you, the minister of Environment, as to what type of study has taken place?” Towtongie asked. “Where is the information coming from when the local grassroots individuals like myself… my cabin was demolished by a polar bear, my Honda was demolished by grizzly bear. Where is this survey? Are we getting a survey? Is there a scientific survey in place?”

Ehaloak said the Department of Environment conducts science-based research, including population surveys, and collects traditional knowledge while consulting communities.

“If a community member feels that their life is in danger or their equipment is in danger, they have the right to destroy the bear,” said Ehaloak. “Any consultations that we do, try to do, or come up with a total allowable harvest, we do take into consideration community input, traditional knowledge, and elder input.”

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